Monday, May 21, 2012

Deputy is lone ranger in working with Tampa's homeless

By: April Kellogg, FOX 13 News

TAMPA (FOX 13) - Hillsborough County deputy Steven Donaldson has no desk. He has no office, either. He works on the streets, working to get people off them.

"We engage every person individually one on one," said Donaldson, who is part of the department's homeless initiative.

In fact, he is the department's homeless initiative, solely helping on getting people off the streets.

"These folks, these human beings have to be accountable to another human being, and I'm that other human being," he said. He's now helped 90 people.

Many of their stories are on his website "" One of those stories is Ryan Lee's. "I was just really down on myself and feeling really bad about the position I was in and wallowing in self pity," Lee said.

Lee lost his job a year and a half ago, got hooked on drugs and wound up homeless. "I was charging my phone in front of a Walmart, and I guess somebody complained about me And that's when Donaldson was called.

"We were able to solve his problems right away because once he had a clear mind and a clear focus, he was on his way," Donaldson said.

Three weeks with Donaldson and Lee is now off drugs, has a roof over his head and is back in contact with his daughter Sophia. He's now also looking for work again.

"He's really just opened my eyes to where I could be and where I should be," Lee said. So how does he do it?

He's persistent and sometimes abrasive. Quite frankly, Donaldson can be a pain in the you know what. And that's what works.

"It might take six months, might take a year, but I wear them down because I'm not going anywhere," he said.

He wore Lee down. "I didn't like him," Lee said. But now? "Now, he is like my role model," he replied.

Some have slipped - ended up in jail - or back on the streets. But Donaldson is right back in their face.

"At the core, it's made me a better person, and with being a better person I'm a better officer," he said.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Good cop - Bad Cop: A homeless recovery tenet

 Olive Branching: Delpino receives a bike from the Homeless Initiative
In many ways David Delpino is a garden variety story of homelessness. More than 9 months ago after serving his time in a state penitentiary he passed by the institutional reentry program with no avail and landed on the streets of Town N' Country as just another homeless man. 

To the many that have passed David by on the streets holding his hand-scrawled sign -- he may be considered an outcast. If you were to read his resume of misdeeds many would shun him as an abject failure defunct in a personal implosion of life's missteps.

Considering the Homeless Initiative is based on a law enforcement platform it would seem counter productive to reach out to a character with such ill repute. That's until you understand the initiative's broader application and purpose -- and the far reaching consequences of homeless plight. When we say the consequences of homelessness impacts every member of a community it's not to be taken as a trite remark -- or another bumper sticker slogan to garner sentimental support.   

The mere imagery of homeless plight manifestly tears at the social fabric of our communities and slowly contributes to blight. Dismissing Delpino as an imprisoned loss only escalates the underlying causation of decay and contributes to an unkempt urban landscape. 

The "Broken Window's Theory" states that monitoring and maintaining urban environments in a well-ordered condition is a signaling effect to criminals that says someone is paying attention. Criminals by their very human nature move into neighborhoods in which they feel comfortable committing their misdeeds. When the streets are clean and orderly it spurs a diffusion of benefits that not only discourages the criminal element from moving in but also supports property values in affected neighborhoods. 

For anyone to qualify as a candidate to participate in the Homeless Initiative there is one main criterion that must be met: the candidate must be on the street and homeless. It's a one item check list and beyond this litmus test we clean the slate and start their individual homeless recovery journey from scratch.  
Delpino in on-the-job training with David Duncan

What may be curious to the casual observer is Delpino's presumed predisposition with the apparatus of law enforcement and the resistance that may arise when this same mechanism flips the switch in the name of outreach. And, you wouldn't be mistaken if you were inclined to believe that Delpino clutched some animosity towards law enforcement over his recent experiences with the justice system.  The Homeless Initiative, however, thrives on the unconventional and the unorthodox, and many have quietly whispered that the obvious dichotomy between the two arch rivals would never work.

After two years of street engagement as a uniformed law enforcement officer I can safely say the street engagement model, even with the likes of David Delpino, has profoundly passed the stress test on the street. Not only has it hurdled the assumed imaginary obstacle but the virtues of the uniform have enhanced our street strategy otherwise known as olive branching.

When I first met Delpino on the street I knew that he harbored a deep entrenchment with the boys in blue regardless of the branch or insignia. But, I also knew Delpino's resentment was with the uniform and not the person inside of it.  It was during one of these first meetings with Delpino on the street that a plan came to order.

"Good Cop -- Bad Cop" Finds The Homeless Initiative

David now employed with our help
It might be a psychological tactic used for police interviews but it also serves the Homeless Initiative very well when olive branching is thrown into the mix. There is a slight modification with the standard police tactic -- which mysteriously has its merit today -- and its hybrid I deploy out on the street to gain compliance and cooperation with those that exhibit resistance to the uniform. In Delpino's example I had to first be the "Bad Cop" then, when the timing was right, flip the switch and suddenly cocoon into the "Good Cop" without any warning.  

There were many times during the "Bad Cop" persona that I was hard on Delpino, threatening to arrest him on any minor infraction leading to the day he finally had his fill with me when I kicked him out of the cold weather shelter to brave the frigid winter night. A few days later I caught up with him "flying" his cardboard sign on Hillsborough Avenue -- a county ordinance violation and the most direct and expedient route to jail.  

This was the day of reckoning for Delpino -- or so I hoped -- as I reached into my pouch and pulled out my handcuffs.

I remember crafting my words carefully: 

"OK, David, I now have a reason to surely put you in jail -- I'm going to let you decide ... where do we go from here?"  

Training supervisor, David Duncan and Delpino
It turned out to be one of those rhetorical questions that he didn't need to answer and the olive branch of assistance was extended and accepted bypassing his assured trip to jail all at the same time. But, for the olive branch to be extended there must be a prerequisite and reciprocal exchange of earnest and forthright intent. Delpino has to prove to me his desire and motivation to receive help and get off the streets is legitimate and sincere. At each step of assistance Delpino and every other homeless candidate must display their worthiness by simply following through on the play-by-play of direction and advice -- to realign their old ways of thinking and give their best shot with assimilating back into a productive member of society. 

Since this day Delpino has come to the center of the fold  jumping on board with the Homeless Initiative at full clip. Delpino now is just one of a few candidates now employed with our private-sector jobs partner, Mobile Auto Glass Repair, as an on-site sales representative. He has proven his salt with customer congeniality bringing in seven sales contracts just last week, "A healthy order of business in windshield repair ..." said David Duncan, Delpino's training supervisor. 

To help Delpino along the way with his forward progress the Homeless Initiative has provided him with a bicycle for transportation to and from work, Hillsborough County Health Care, and a replacement pair of prescription eye wear after his last set took a beating beyond repair. It's these tempered measures of assistance that continues pushing them forward -- one part olive branching -- one part assistance, to help keep their heads above water until they reach the tipping point of self-sufficiency.

And, it is during this monitoring phase that we look for signs of personal growth and realignment to a level of normalcy. In a recent visit to Delpino's job site he told me that he opened a checking account after getting a couple of pay checks under his belt. It was the sure-footed sign of progress that I was looking for and he did it on his own direction without my advice.

This morning I read a very fitting quote on Facebook that appropriately frames David Delpino's story:

 "Every Saint Has A Past And Every Sinner Has A Future." -- Oscar Wilde   

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Private sector augments recovery therapy

Rob Arnold Speaks To Ryan During Job Interview
Looking at Ryan less than thirty days after our first meeting  I'm sometimes startled at his spellbinding turnaround. As you may recall, I first met Ryan as the subject of a Wal-Mart complaint to the Sheriff's Office about a disheveled young man loitering in front of the store entrance. Less than thirty days ago Ryan was homeless and suffering from his own self-admitted misdeeds -- that's until the Homeless Initiative stepped-in and intervened.

Employment often is a distant memory to the ranks of those caught in the vice of homelessness and once you're in this pit of despair only a forgiving  hand will risk the chance that grants personal redemption. And, Rob Arnold, owner of Mobile Auto Glass Repair, frequently extends that hand of second chances even at the risk that its payoff is delivered without certainty. 

My homeless recovery candidates have to earn my confidence before ever seeing the inside of Rob Arnold's office, much less receive the high recommendation as a worthy employment risk. It's all about trust -- and trust is the precursor to personal redemption. 

To date Ryan has given me everything I need to move forward in the next phase of his journey to recovery -- employment is more than just earning a paycheck -- it's also the most tenable form of therapy. The attributes of work builds self-esteem, self-confidence, and reunites its benefactor as a productive member of society.

Ryan did very well during Rob Arnold's fast pitched interview -- it was impressive to see Ryan knock them out of the park and proves again that he is quickly assimilating back to normalcy. At the end of the employment interview, Rob Arnold gave Ryan the thumbs up and he is scheduled to start on-the-job training next Thursday.

So, a big THANKS! to Rob Arnold and Mobile Auto Glass Repair, our private-sector partner -- not only for providing our homeless candidates with employment opportunities but for supporting our unique brand of on-the-job homeless recovery therapy as well.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Sunday, May 13, 2012

James Returning Home

This is James' video -- the 20-year-old young man who was stranded and homeless in Tampa this past April.

Thanks to all that helped out:

Pastor Clark w/ Wesely Memorial Church, Ben Robbins and all the folks at

A special Thanks to Johnnie Gennaro, President/Founder of Red Cap Plumbing for sponsoring James bus pass and for giving James some spending money for the trip back home.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Request For Assistance

As you may already know, our next residential home for the homeless is moving forward with assistance from the Home Depot Foundation. I'm scheduled to meet with the staff of the Town N' Country Home Depot store on Friday the 11th to coordinate the rehab-logistics among other things.

Unfortunately, someone needed the exterior air conditioning unit more than we did and they left their cinder block behind as a calling card when they committed their dastardly deed. 

In the meantime, I need to find a private sector donor (most likely an air conditioning company)  that might be able to help us out with the installation of a replacement unit. If you have any resources or think you can hit-up an A/C company you do business with  we would be much appreciated.

Typically, the day of renovation is a good-sized media event and I always do my best to promote those private-sector companies and individuals that help out.

You can send me an email at StevenLeeDonaldson@, or call my office number (813)247-0330, if you should come up with anything.


Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ryan embraces homeless recovery journey

This is Ryan, the young man who just last week was snagged by our street engagement net. He has given me permission to tell his story -- and, his story is as revealing as it is engrossing. You may recall, it was the extended reach of a law enforcement contingent that corralled the youthful and sometimes wayward soul while loafing in front of a Town N' Country Wal-Mart. The long arm of the law at the Sheriff's Office is not only an expression of enforcement it also applies to assistance for homeless recovery and rehabilitation.

The trap is always set the same way: a disheveled and apparent homeless persona lingering and beset with troubles delivers a complaint -- and, a complaint delivers the police. Soon enough my cell-phone rings with the responding officer on the other end requesting my assistance. It's a snare that has proven its merit time and again.

Meeting a homeless candidate for the first time, rarely -- if ever, do I have a plan in mind prior to my arrival on-scene. Most cases share common elements of despair and misalignment but a recovery template isn't put into motion until a one-on-one assessment reveals the true sum and substance of individual problems.

Ryan is not an ordinary case -- he speaks with the articulation of a highly lawyered memo while renouncing the urges of his malignant and unyielding past. Standing next to a vending machine its a sluggish dullness that comes to mind when describing his physical demeanor -- even so, he breaks through the cloud to talk about his troubles with a sharp wit.  Its during this first meeting where I'm looking for the flicker of a flame: motivation, desire, the need to change and I feel Ryan has all of these. In these early assessment stages I've learned to keep tepid restraint on my side -- even with Ryan's immediate personal acknowledgement with undisguised imperfections I still see him as a mixed bag of tricks.

Two weeks has past since I started working with Ryan and in this time he has already experienced both set-backs and mishaps -- a lost birth certificate, a stolen backpack, a missing cell-phone -- each is a stumbling block. When called to task on the details he pushes back with a furrowed forehead and out-of-kilter eyebrow. Suddenly his articulation takes a backseat to hazy and mysterious happenings which escapes his grasp. Its like flipping a switch and I call him out demanding more clarification -- he doesn't like it. Sitting at a lunch counter there is a silence that Ryan rarely speaks. It might be the first impasse and the first time someone has demanded his personal accountability when his life's decisions run a muck. When I find resistance, I push back with an implied ultimatum because without accountability he's not moving forward -- at least not with me. 

This is the dawning of Ryan's rehabilitation -- the critical moment in time -- where before, maybe he was used to getting a hall pass -- he'll soon learn that he will get no hall pass from me. Everyone must have skin in the game and it's his personal accountability I'm looking for. His silence is broken with an explanation that resolves the awkward but necessary stand-off. We clean the slate and move forward, and with this minor step I see Ryan coming around.

Some time has past since me and Ryan first met, he has since taken the bull by the horns. Now, a week or so later, he is stabilized enough that I can help him work on his underlying problems. I have hope for Ryan because he stays in touch and that is an enduring demonstration of his innate desire for personal change. Its an early Friday afternoon when we reunite at his grandmother's Town N' Country home. This is nothing more than a pit stop for a shower, shave and some fresh clothes before he has to leave again.

"I may have burned some bridges here," Ryan says. I have only proven to my grandmother I can't be trusted when left alone."

He accepts this as his own doing.  We get loaded up in the squad car and after a two week delay we finally get started on his plan for recovery.

A plan comes to order -- 

As a matter of business I have to decide how best to spend my time and who to spend it with to be the most productive on the streets. The general consensus of law enforcement philosophy leans in the direction of  assistance for those that are younger and those that are elder. Ryan is no child -- he's a man -- but he's very salvageable, and I believe our net has caught him early enough for a dramatic turnaround so I press forward.  

Ryan meets members of the Sheriff's Office
My first concern with breaking Ryan's cycle of dependency and homelessness is his isolated independence. He admits that his self styled white-knuckled approach has only delivered more set backs and he reveals a startling admission:

"I owe you a debt of gratitude, I've learned in the last two weeks that I can't solve my problem alone -- I need to ask for help." Ryan explains.

I was taken back by his free expression, particularly so early in his journey. I had to sit back in my seat for a moment without saying anything -- I was watching the profound effects of front seat therapy manifestly appear right before my eyes.

Admittedly, I am not well versed with the tenets of addiction and recovery and I have just begun to understand the underlying causation of homelessness. My demand for honesty is a two way street and I'd be foolish to believe that I could bluff my way through it with the likes of Ryan's engrained manifesto.

Months ago I enlisted Albert Swiger as my foot soldier and prepared him for the day that I would be calling upon him. I have never asked for anything in return when I help one of my homeless candidates off the street, but I do ask that they help someone in need just like I helped them.

Today was the day I was going to call in Swiger's marker.

I wanted Ryan to see the end game of recovery in the present tense -- surreptitiously showboating Swiger's accomplishments to do it. We arrived at his West Chase job-site where Ryan is greeted by Swiger -- at some point the natural order of events take hold and the duo enter into a cryptic conversation.

It's was the conversation I was hoping that would take place. Ryan now has his support structure -- a fellow brethren who delivers  some words of advice:

"If I can do it, you can do it." Albert tells Ryan. "Here is my cell phone number, call me when you need to, I'm here for you ..."

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330



Saturday, May 5, 2012

Positively Tampa Bay: Our Heroes Surprise!

Congrats to Lyonelle! She has been named Domestic Violence First Responder of the Year! She will receive the award at the Our Heroes Luncheon. You may remember Deputy Lyonelle De Veaux who was shot three times during a domestic violence call for service. She since has recovered nicely and is an inspiration for all of us!

Dep SL Donaldson

Friday, May 4, 2012

Bay News 9's Dalia Dangerfield covers Homeless Jobs Initiative


A Hillsborough County deputy is going beyond the badge.

Deputy Steven Donaldson runs the homeless initiative Help Cops Help Us.

He launched it more than a year ago. It uses a personal approach and connects with private businesses to get people the help they need.

“I'm not an advocate for the homeless, just trying to solve a problem,” he said.

Sometimes that means finding jobs or helping with housing. Other times it's just a ride in the squad car.

“He'll take me to my doctors, he'll take me to work every once in a while,” said Robert Pellechio. “He'll help me with my bike. He helped me get a bike, so he's done a lot for me.”

“When I really knew I was on to something is when TPD called me or sent me an email rather,” Donaldson said, “and said, 'hey, we got our homeless liaison, tell us what you do.'"

Tampa Police is using his model and soon Donaldson believes what he's doing here could become a nationwide vision as well.

Donaldson says he's helped 85 homeless people in the last year. He focuses his efforts on the Town N’ Country area and now another deputy covers the neighborhoods around USF.

Donaldson plans to expand his reach by launching a non-profit in the future.

Albert Swiger is officially in business!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nineteen months later homelessness becomes distant memory

Albert Swiger stands in front of a home he recently painted

Sometimes old habits die hard, other times it takes about nineteen months -- just ask Albert Swiger, a formerly homeless man I found in the early stages of the Homeless Initiative "flying" a sign on Hillsborough Ave. It wasn't a chance meeting between Swiger and myself since our deliberate encounter at the time was all part of a very unsophisticated homeless recovery model centered on street engagement.

There were many times during these months that I didn't think Albert was going to make it and become successful; but, these were fleeting moments, and each time Albert rose to the occasion to prove me wrong.

If we had a test kitchen for the Homeless Initiative Albert would have tasted every recipe -- from the early days of the Rapid Rehousing grant to the more recent jobs initiative, he was our poster child of news reports and television coverage lauding the virtues of our every trial and error -- he became our local homeless recovery rock star.

But these are the rosier pictures -- since with success always will you have failure -- more than any other homeless recovery candidate, I'm certain, Albert was the driving impulse for every incendiary curse word I knew and a few I made up. Over the months of his recovery I've threatened to put him in jail, fire him from a job of which I had no authority, and maybe even revoke his green card whether he had one or not.

In each and every one of these times the dust would soon settle and we continued to move forward. It was during these times that Albert was just as much an apprentice as I was a journeymen and stumbling disciplinarian -- but, if the student hasn't learned then the teacher hasn't taught. If he failed then I failed -- and, I wasn't going to fail.

I did learn to give Albert his breathing room in hopes that he would find his niche in a rediscovered life. To Albert's disservice, I didn't have the play-by-play since there was no script back then; but, with every measured stride a formula did reveal itself and future candidates would surely benefit from it.

Albert Swiger becomes a business man --

It's now a crisp Spring afternoon and I pay a visit to Albert's most recent job site -- a contemporary block home situated on a billowing West Chase avenue.

 He greets me at the curb and anxiously awaits to start the tour that will showcases his handy work. Albert has nearly completed the exterior paint job and he affectionately bemoans the homeowners last minute impulse to broaden his work order.

He emphasizes his near flawless forty-five degree miter cut on a fascia board and I can't help but compliment the steady hand of his trim line.  Mildewed roofing shingles now have a fresh look and his opinions offered as a craftsmen are regularly signed-off with high approval from the homeowner.

In his short study as an entrepreneur he has become the West Chase wizard to those that need home improvements -- bouncing from one referral to another he has left a trail of freshly painted homes behind in his wake.

Albert ushers me into the side door of the garage where he points into the door jam -- a brass security hinge stands out as a new replacement. "I recommended they let me install this as a security feature," Albert says. "This is where someone is going to break-in if they want too and the old one was construction grade." I thought Albert already learned the fine art of up-selling -- and I was impressed, until he explained that the installation came for free. "It was just a bonus," he said. "You under promise and over deliver -- that's how you make happy customers." 

I left with a sigh of relief and some reassurance that the cardboard sign he once held on the side of the road is now permanently retired. It's a good feeling, since Albert was the first one into the pipeline and now has become the first one out. I can now move on to help someone else just like I helped him -- and, because of Albert, better equipped to do it. And now, nineteen months later, I am honored to say that I was part of his homeless recovery story.

Keep up your outstanding work Albert  you have made me very proud.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Deputy remembers homeless man killed by train

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY --Story by Dalia Dangerfield Bay New 9

A Hillsborough County deputy is remembering a Bay area man who was killed by a CSX train Tuesday.

Luis Romo, 71, was crossing the train tracks off of Florida Avenue and Busch Boulevard in Tampa when a train struck him.

Romo had been one of many helped through the Hillsborough County Sheriff's homeless initiative "Help Cops Help Us."

Deputy Steven Donaldson launched the program to get homeless people the help they needed. Donaldson met Romo through the initiative a year ago.

"He had a great personality, you can't help but like the guy," said Deputy Steven Donaldson. "He was a challenge to deal with I'll give him that but when it's all said and done he was a nice old man."

Romo had been living outside an abandoned business on Dale Mabry Hwy. A year ago, Donaldson videotaped his encounter with Romo and told the elderly man that he wanted to help him.

"It was an interesting moment because he started to whimper and called me his angel of God and it's a touching moment," said Donaldson.

Deputy Donaldson found a retirement facility for Romo. But, he left the place and wandered the area to other facilities. Donaldson eventually lost contact with Romo.

It's unclear why Romo was on Florida Avenue, but according to police, he had already crossed the railroad tracks. He doubled back and was hit by an oncoming train.

Although it was a tragic ending, Donaldson says Romo was a success story. They got him off the street, if only for a short time.

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The virtues of "The Big Book" make it to the street

The causation of homeless plight is much deeper and more dynamic than the abridged and cursory inspection that is often used as its measure. From a distance, all homeless stories are created equal and their sometimes iconic pictures of a trampled existence often look the same. In terms of recovery and assistance it can be an industry of fatal flaws and fragmented disconnect that may not understand the nuances of human behaviorism and how best to fix it. And to fix it, you have to understand one person at a time.

Whether the cause and effect of alcoholism and drug abuse or addiction is related or mutually exclusive to homelessness, as a recovery officer, you have to deal with the problem as it is delivered to you, but here is the redeeming argument: would human nature dictate a propensity for abuse by reason of a homeless and troubled environment or did the abuse result in the homeless and troubled environment.

The "Housing First" philosophy emphasizes  the redundant precept that a roof over someone's head is the best cure for homelessness. Moreover, stability in the day-to-day rituals of normalcy and productivity are simply a distraction to what was previously a vast chasm of helpless isolation. When you have a stable environment a lot of your problems will subside and hopefully go away one day since a change in direction is also a change in momentum in that same direction.

After engaging almost two-hundred homeless candidates on the street over the last two years I would submit that the majority don't have a furious inclination with the golden glow of high octane lager. Nor did the vast majority's residential instability result exclusively from their dependency on alcohol or drug abuse. However, after the tipping point of inevitable indigence was reached from the perfect storm of consequential behavior and indecisive judgement their use or abuse clearly became more pronounced.     

Solving or even curtailing the impact of alcoholism or drug abuse and its relational interference with homeless recovery is not an implied slam dunk. I would submit however that its connectivity is more manageable than previously considered by the majority of casual onlookers particularly if we were first to understand where each candidate falls onto to the scale of relational cause and effect.  

Last week I intercepted Ryan, a 24-year-old man, on the streets of Town N' Country following a complaint of a very much lethargic and aimlessly bound loiterer stationed in front of a Wal-Mart entrance. 

Siphoning from an exterior electrical outlet to charge his cell phone -- it's one of the telltale signs of homeless liturgy. 

I soon find out Ryan has a history of acknowledged mental health obstacles laced with his seductive inhibitions with drug abuse. There is no easy answer, a week of fits and starts finally lead to his conscientious stability after a three day check-in at the Crisis Center. Even with all of Ryan's shortcomings he is held in high praise with his determined follow-up. My parting words of advice are always the same: 

"The best thing you can do for  yourself is stay in touch."

 And Ryan does -- after receiving his latest telephone call I meet up with him once again at the Tow N' County library settled-in on one of the computer stations. I startle him out of a stooper, his head and shoulders bent over, he has become limp from a maladjustment with his medication but he shakes it off. 

Working with such a homeless case with so many layers can be a complicated one; but, Ryan seems to be awakened by the law enforcement intervention -- and his sudden composure is the budding green shoots for success even with all his complications.

A gesture of normalcy is my first offering of goodwill which is the best thing that I can do for myself -- it starts with a lunch buffet which spurred a reflective and lopsided conversation where I did most of the listening. Sitting down at a lunch counter has become a therapeutic bonanza in my journey to understand homeless recovery over the months, even without all the intellectual and clinical academic training.  

Often berating himself, Ryan provided a revealing and earnest introspective into his storied past of bad decisions and illicit behavior. "If I was my grandmother I wouldn't trust myself," he said. Referring to the one stable hand of assistance he has repeatedly bit over the years of his delusional malcontent. Ryan spoke fluently about the tenets of recovery and how he often would lie to himself about his addiction just to make him another one of his own blind believers.   

After lunch we walked back to the patrol car where I rummaged through my center console presenting Ryan with a befitting gift. It's called "The Big Book" by its spiritual followers that embrace the twelve-steps and twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. I keep a soft-cover copy around for just such an occasion.  When I give something away I always expect something in return -- in Ryan's exchange I wanted a sincere attempt at recovery.

The Blue Book was a token gesture of goodwill -- he didn't know how to react at first, choking on his first couple of words. He reached out to accept the conditional offer saying, "I will, I will" thumbing through the first few pages.

Even with the highest praise for Ryan and even under the best of conditions it's hard to predict where this parking lot interaction will end up for him. But, for the time being, at least I'm content in knowing it's a start in the right direction. 

Deputy Steven Donaldson
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
Homeless Initiative
District III Office: (813) 247-0330